Nikon D3s review

The D3s offers the ultimate in performance, build and image quality

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nikon d3s

The D3s's bulk takes some getting used to - "like taking a picture with a laptop" was one particularly uncharitable verdict - but once you get used to the camera's 1.2kg weight (2.2kg with our 14-24mm review lens) it's difficult to argue that the D3s isn't worth every penny of its extravagant price tag.

It's made from tough-feeling magnesium alloy with chunky rubber grips at every point your hands come into contact with it, and is sealed against water and dust ingress by a series of rubber seals.

nikon d3s

Every button and control wheel feels bigger and tougher than those on Nikon's consumer-level cameras: the D3s feels like it will survive all but the most wilful abuse.

If we were forced to name a single point of perceived weakness it would be the thin-feeling catch you need to lift to uncover the button that releases the memory card door, but even breaking that would take a stroke of spectacularly bad luck.

nikon d3s

It's not just the exterior that feels bomb-proof - the shutter assembly is rated to withstand 300,000 actuations, and the D3s gains a sensor dust-reduction system over the D3.

The drawback to the D3s's military-grade construction is its size and weight, but your concerns - and your complaining shoulders - fade into the background once you start taking pictures. Once you've visualised your shot, the D3s makes it very, very hard to miss.

nikon d3s

The Multi-CAM 3500FX focus sensor is the same as that in the D3, although it's not exactly showing its age. In Dynamic-area mode the D3s proved difficult to trip up, and you have the option of using only 11 autofocus points if you find using all 51 too slow.

Of those 51 focus points, 15 are cross-type, clustered in the middle of the frame. No Nikon has more cross-type autofocus points, although a few Canon cameras enjoy a technical advantage: the 7D with 19, and the comparatively-priced crop-frame 1D MKIV with 39.

nikon d3s

The pentaprism viewfinder gives you a one hundred per cent view of the frame and, on our f/2.8 review lens, provided a sharp, bright image that made taking over from the autofocus system easy and quick.

There's no squinting at distant objects or spraying your subject with shots while you turn the focus ring: it's extremely easy to get things right first time.

The list of pro-level features goes on. A (second) integrated microphone allows you to record a sound clip with every shot - automatically if you choose - while the memory card door covers a pair of Compact Flash slots, allowing you to install two cards for either a much-improved maximum allowable shot capacity, or a modicum of redundancy should a card fail mid-shoot.

nikon d3s

Moreover, there are plenty of nods to keeping photographers away from the menu system. Most major changes to the D3s's shooting mode can be made with a button and control wheel combination, while others, such as metering mode and focus area, get dedicated switches.